New Active Travel Strategy (?) for England

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New Active Travel Strategy (?) for England

Posted 24 February 2010 16:39 by martin

The Department for Transport and Department of Health (why is one 'for' and the other 'of'?!) in England have just published a new Active Travel Strategy, which claims to put “walking and cycling at the heart of our transport and health strategies”.

It has the laudable aim of getting more people cycling and walking more often and more safely.

One chart from the report shows why that may be necessary:

km walked per year

With regard to walking, the government's plans are founded on two pillars:
Sadly that's the first and last mention of such 'web-based walking route finders'  in the whole 64 page document!  Some pillar.

It's a real curate's egg of a document.  It mentions a bewildering number of initiatives and case studies, but you get the feeling that the whole is less than the sum of its parts.  You don't get a sense that central government is showing much passion and inspiring leadership on this issue.

Which I suppose poses the question, is that their role?  There are some less than subtle hints in the document that regional and local government need to 'get on with it'.   E.g:

[p. 24] “Ultimately, however, one of the major barriers to more walking and cycling is that their potential and benefits are not always fully appreciated by decision-makers involved in local and community planning projects.”

[p.42] “The DfT already provides over £1.3bn capital funding per year for small-scale transport improvement and maintenance programmes…but historically local authorities have chosen to spend relatively little supporting active travel.”

Is that fair comment?

The elephant in the room is that car (and rail, for that matter) projects still get eye-watering amounts of funding compared to walking and cycling.  It wouldn't take much of a shift in budgetary allocations to fund a national roll-out of the (excellent) Sustainable Travel Towns demonstration projects – particularly when the document states that these programmes offer very high value for money, with an implied benefit-cost ratio (after including environmental, consumer benefit and health impacts) of 20: 1 or higher.

And just in case we needed any more persuasion that there might be a strong business case for 'getting on with it' (whether that's local, regional or national government, or businesses, NGOs etc.) then another chart in the report spells it out:

Wider cost of transport

So the need is urgent, but ultimately it's unclear whether this strategy (which has no targets) is going to deliver the step-change necessary.  There's plenty of good intent, and good practice, but it really doesn't read like a document that truly puts “walking and cycling at the heart of our transport and health strategies”.

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